Doug Moe sent a note asking for my thoughts on the ice storm that hit Madison and Wisconsin thirty years ago, leaving 600,000 people without power in subzero temperature. My comments got to Doug too late for his column, so here they are:
It was damn cold.We lost power and tried to stick it out. Eventually we spent the night at Ben and Judy Sidran's, who had electricity and lived just three blocks away.The biggest concern after the dangerous frigid temperatures was the availability of water. With the loss of electricity, the city might lose too many wells and not have enough drinking water or water for fire fighting.Funny thing is water was one of the biggest sources of damage. Most people let their basement faucet trickle a little. Those who did not risked having the pipes freeze and burst.Public Works worked closely with MG&E and we never had a problem.At 8:30 am, we had a staff meeting of department heads, after everyone had been operating their agencies all night. The meeting lasted 30 minutes. After we received all the reports there was basically nothing to do. It was my proudest moment as mayor.Communications and emergency plans went into effect without a hitch. City employees reported to work without anyone calling them. Off-duty employees came in as well. Everyone knew what to do and the absence of phones or electricity did not slow us down. It was everyone- police, fire, public works, health and administrative staff.The training, the education, the drills all paid off.
- Every employee: public works, police, health, water, fire, and administrative, knew their job and were well trained.
- Even if there was no communications, they knew where to report and made their way there. (A considerable advantage over the Katrina situation but still no easy chore with trees and power lines down.)
- Most city employees knew what to do even if their supervisor was not available.
- Most supervisors were available.
- Before the storm hit, with a few hours warning we were able to review our contingency plans for the next day.
- The city had made a great investment over the years in good equipment and training.
- The residency requirement for city employees contributed to the prompt and effective response, as most workers lived close to their assignments.
- The utility companies, particularly Madison Gas and Electric, were also well prepared and equipped, and had great communication with the city, especially to ensure we had power to water pumping stations.
- The media, newspapers, radio, and TV did a great job of reporting events accurately.
- Those of us in a position of responsibility who were expected to answer questions had solid, reliable information, and were able to provide a realistic assessment of the situation.